Under normal circumstances, the “announcement” of a 2nd team running back wouldn’t bring headlines. When the starting running back is Rashard Mendenhall, however, it is the opposite of a normal circumstance.
According to ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss, Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians is strongly leaning toward Alfonso Smith as the “handcuff” to Mendenhall. Arians anointed Smith as the backup by saying that he was “probably our next guy” in the event that Mendenhall was unavailable, and this was the first tinge of clarity in this situation all season.
Mendenhall is already injured heading into the season, and is listed as questionable for Week 1 with a knee injury. Even if he is healthy, the former Pittsburgh running back has a career rushing average of just 4.1 yards per carry, and he hasn’t been the same player that he was in the early stages of his career.
Arizona has four (!) options at the backup running back spot, with Smith backed up by the oft-injured Ryan Williams, and two rookies in Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor. However, Smith has battled through training camp, and reportedly impressed the coaching staff as a result of tremendous pass protection performance.
Smith has only 30 carries in his NFL career, so this is anything but the end of the story. However, if Mendenhall can’t go on Sunday, we know who the starting running back for the Arizona Cardinals will be.